Skin Spots, Freckling and Discoloration
Skin pigmentation problems, either dark or light colored spots that cause uneven or blotchy areas and freckling, are from disorders of the melanin (producing too much or too little) that makes up the color in your skin. These skin discolorations are what make your skin appear much older than it really is. If you have ever applied makeup foundation properly to even out your skin tone, you know that it can take years off your face. Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin spots and blotchiness, and eventually, wrinkling and skin cancer. Heat can also cause skin age spots. There are other causes for skin pigmentation problems such as scar discoloration from past rashes, cuts and acne which usually shows up more significant on darker skin than fair skin. Another is from hormonal changes. Pregnancy, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy and even normal monthly hormone fluctuations can all cause areas of the skin to darken. One of the most common areas where this happens is over the top lip, which can get dark enough to look mustache-like. And exposure to the sun can make this color change accelerate.
The best treatment for skin spots is to keep your skin protected from the sun as much as possible throughout your lifetime. If you already have damage, other than having a doctor perform laser or chemical peels that remove significant layers of skin, the best treatment is using products that contain ingredients that block some of the production of melanin in the skin, like hydroquinone (higher concentrations of 4% must have a prescription but lower concentrations are available over the counter), azelaic acid in 15% to 20% concentrations, kojic acid or licorice extract. None of these ingredients will actually bleach skin which is not possible; they just keep your skin from producing the excess chemical that makes skin darker. Use these melanin inhibitors in combination with chemical exfoliators like Retin-A used along with Alpha Hydroxyl Acids (AHAs) to remove the top darker layers of skin while the melanin-inhibitors help prevent the darkness from reforming. Then use sunscreen of at least 30 SPF at all times with coverage from clothing, hats and sunglasses everyday or the color will quickly reappear. Using tanning beds and sun lamps will also damage and darken spots as bad as or even worse than the sun.
Vitamin C in cosmetics and taking vitamin E oral supplements may help keep the dark spots from coming back as well. Dark spots caused by scarring can take years to lighten but using Retin-A with AHAs can help speed up the process a bit. Even though AHAs do not inhibit melanin production (they work by increasing cell turnover, shedding skin layers so newer skin is revealed), lactic and glycolic acid forms of AHAs may inhibit melanin since their molecule size is smaller than other AHAs. Keep in mind that Hydroquinone breaks down very easily and quickly after opening and being exposed to air and light makes it ineffective. Choose these products in containers with small openings such as tubes instead of large mouth containers made of transparent glass or plastic which expose it to more air and light degrading it faster.